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Find of the Month – December

  • 29th December 2017

 

‘An archaeological Christmas present and thrilling to find!’  This is how lucky archaeologists Tim and Jesse describe our December find of the month – a well preserved medieval oven.

Cooking Christmas dinner probably conjures up images of gas hobs and electric ovens. Cooking dinner in this medieval stone built oven would definitely have required a lot more effort though.

Circular medieval stone oven

Medieval stone built oven, with flue entrance on the left and 20th century pit cutting oven on right (1m scale)

The oven was found in the village of Felmersham, Bedfordshire, just before Christmas. The oven is 12th to 14th century and appears to be inside a large building, possibly a hall. Domed stone built ovens like this one are found both in and outside buildings, but the suggestive clues here are an adjacent stone floor surface and what we’re fairly sure is a giant posthole, for supporting a structure. It seems the oven was inside a large building.

Oval stone filled post pit

Half excavated pit filled with stone to support a large timber post (1m scale)

We can tell that many meals have been cooked in the oven, as lots of the stones are heat affected. An area of heavily fire-reddened stones at the back on the oven shows this was the hottest part; presumably where the fire was located.  Food would have then been placed towards the front of the oven on the stone slab floor. A flue extended out of this front side, through which fuel was put in and swept out. Helpfully, the nearby stone floor was built in between two episodes of oven cleaning, showing that this internal floor surface was in use at the same time as the oven.

Rough stone surface and oven

Stone surface in foreground with oven beyond – large stones below scale are top of post pit show above (1m scale)

Who did this large medieval building belonged to? We have two suggestions. Given the enormous posthole and seemingly internal oven, all evidence points towards this building being a hall. Could it belong to one of the two medieval manors recorded in the 1086 Domesday survey? Or perhaps it’s connected to the Lenton Priory monks who built Felmersham Church between 1220 and 1240? Without excavating a larger area we may not know. Either way, this oven is a particularly well preserved and nice find. Perhaps medieval Christmas feasts were even cooked in it.

 

 

2 responses to “Find of the Month – December”

  1. I am inclined to believe the oven and large building could be where the monks and craftsmen lived during the building of Felmersham church. The church was built by the monks from Lenton Priory between 1220 and 1240.

    The church has a magnificent West Front and a central tower which indicates the church was being built for a purpose other than a simple parish church. It is widely conjectured that the monks were in the process of building a satellite monastery and I understand it was quite normal to build the church first.

    While building the church they would need somewhere to live and eat. The remains of the medieval oven and building are a very short distance from the church so I think there is every possibility that this where the monks lived. The monastery was never built and in 1283 the the monks relinquished the advowson to the crown in exchange for a church in Derbyshire.

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